Showcasing the Best of Welsh Business


Business News Wales Meets: Helen Gillies – Founder of Tots Play


Franchising is a business sector operating at record heights. There are now nearly 50,000 franchise businesses collectively contributing over £17bn and 710,000 jobs to the country’s economy. And franchises have a strong success rate: an estimated 97% of franchise-run units are profitable. Business News Wales caught up with Helen Gillies, Newport-based founder of Tots Play, to find out some of the benefits of running a franchise.

Q: How and why did Tots Play get started?

I first ventured into the pre-school classes industry when my daughter was a baby. I bought a music class franchise to allow me the flexibility to work but still be there for her, and started up a few sessions in my local area. I ended up selling that business due to a house move which gave me the chance to use all the experience I had gained running classes for babies and toddlers, and combine it with everything I had learned on my parenting journey in the years in between, to develop a new programme of my own. My aim was to create a class that, rather than focusing on just one activity, as most pre-school classes did at the time, combined lots of the things I had enjoyed with my daughter as a baby and young child into one fun-filled session, providing multiple developmental benefits and a supportive environment for new parents. In short, the type of class I had wanted for myself but that didn't exist when my daughter was a baby – and so Tots Play was born. You can read more of the story of how Tots Play got started and developed over the last 10 years in a blog post I wrote about it here:

Q: Why did you decide to franchise the idea?

After a couple of years of running classes myself it was becoming clear that what Tots Play offered was something that people wanted and it was time to grow the business beyond just me. I didn't really want to simply take on teachers to run more classes, instead I was looking to share my experience of developing a business that worked around my family and offer the opportunity to run Tots Play as their own business to others looking for a similar solution. That’s when I started to consider franchising.

Q: How does the franchise model work at Tots Play?

The Tots Play franchise offers the opportunity to deliver our award winning programme of developmental play classes and services in the franchisee’s local area at times and locations to suit them, enabling them to fit it around family and other commitments. Following the purchase of the franchise and initial training, franchisees pay a monthly fee, then retain all further revenue. We also provide ongoing support and training, as well as the infrastructure and resources to enable their businesses to thrive, and a community that means they never have to feel like they are on their own as they embark upon and grow their new venture.

Q: How many Tots Play franchises are there now, and what sorts of places do they operate in?

We currently have 44 franchisees across the UK, from Scotland down to the Isle of Wight, and from South Wales across to Essex (plus lots in between!).

Q: Do you have a typical franchisee?

Our franchisees are currently all female, and most are parents as the business is designed to offer flexibility, ideal when working around a family. They do come from a wide variety of backgrounds though including accountancy, retail and marketing, as well as quite a few who previously worked in education. Each person brings something new and different to the business, which is one of the great things about franchising.

Q: In your view, what are the benefits of being a franchisor?

What I love about being a franchisor is the opportunity to not only see your business idea grow and reach new people, but to also to play a part in your franchisees growing and developing as business owners and reaching their own goals. Opening up the opportunity of business ownership to those who may not have otherwise considered it or felt they were able to achieve it on their own is hugely rewarding.

Q: Do you have any top tips for a business owner thinking of franchising their idea, and anyone thinking they might buy a franchise?

For those thinking about franchising their business my advice would be to be really clear what you want to get from franchising and also what you can offer potential franchisees. Understand the problem you can solve for them. The role of franchisor is very different to that of a traditional business owner, so be prepared for a learning curve and for having to let go a little of the control you may be used to having over your business. Embrace the new perspective that franchisees can bring to your business, rather than trying to find clones of yourself, and never stop learning.

If you are thinking of buying a franchise, research a few companies in the sector you are interested in and get a feel for which ones resonate with you, and that you would feel excited and passionate about working with. Talk to both the franchisor and current franchisees and make sure you get all your questions answered and really understand what the role entails and what you would be doing day to day. There are many benefits to joining a franchise, such as the use of a tried and tested business model, ongoing training and support, and the opportunity to create something that you can grow and develop into a valuable asset. It is important to understand, however, that it is not a get rich quick scheme and that you will need to put in the work to reap the rewards. While it is natural to be a bit apprehensive about investing in your own business, there should also be a sense of excitement and a desire to take on new challenges to reach your goals.

Franchising is a unique industry with many challenges but also many rewards, and even more opportunities for those willing to embrace them. Why not come along to the event and find out it if might just be an opportunity perfect for you?

Helen will be guest speaker at a free event in Cardiff later this month designed to help business owners explore franchise as a growth strategy. She will be joined at the event by Peter Howe, NatWest’s regional specialist on franchise finance, and Siobhan Williams, franchising expert at Darwin Gray Solicitors. For tickets CLICK HERE